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RU Environmental Award Winners 2016

Congratulations to the 2016 Environmental Award winners: Professor Brian Allanson and Mrs Louw Claassens (Individual), Amina Cachalia Residence (Student society/residence) and Children of the Soil (Makana community). 

2016 Enviro Awards Photo by Sarah Wilken

Dr Peter Clayton presented the winners with the unique and beautiful floating trophies and framed certificates at a small ceremony on 23 November 2016.* 

*The usual celebratory function (scheduled for 29 September) was unfortunately cancelled due to protest action.  

Winners' efforts to promote sustainability are acknowledged in the Rhodes University graduation booklet and on the Environmental Awards Honours Roll.

More about the winners:

Professor Brian Allanson and Mrs Louw Claassens: This individual award is unique in that it is shared by two people – a young RU Postgrad Researcher and a retired RU Professor – who work together as one. Their nomination is based on tangible evidence of meeting all the required criteria: 

1. Good sustainability practice
2. Track record
3. Participation, inspiration & empowerment
4. Innovative
5. Continuity

Their practices are informed by a social-ecological interpretation of sustainability – recognising the integral relationship between human well-being and environmental health, and promoting practices and actions that benefit both the social sphere and the biophysical environment.

One of the main aims of their project has been to identify threats to estuaries and wetlands, draw in the local and wider community in conducting regular environmental monitoring programmes, and to promote sustainable utilization of natural resources while protecting a national biodiversity ‘treasure’.

The nominees have an impressive track record of voluntary environmental work. Through their activities they have created and developed an organisation – the Knysna Basin Project – funded in part by Rhodes University. The project was initiated by Professor Allanson 21 years ago, and with the arrival of Mrs Claassens as a PhD student in 2013, the project has gained additional energy and momentum.

They have developed strong community participation in environmental activities that promote environmental awareness, inspire the younger generation, and empower them through education and participation. In the past, there was little public awareness of the environmental issues in the Knysna Estuary, and a lot of misinformation, but with access to accurate information, the communities are now much better informed.

The nominees have initiated a sustainable environmental monitoring programme – allowing the project to quickly identify problems (e.g. entry points where nutrient-rich waste water is polluting the estuary) so the municipality can take action.

They have also created a sustainable educational venture that is going from strength to strength. They adopted a School Eco Club to strengthen educational awareness programmes and set the course towards long-term sustainability. They host a local high school every year, teaching them ecological methods and how to investigate different types of habitats. They also host fun and educational outings every few months – which are open to all. Furthermore, environmental tours are increasingly being requested by groups of international visitors – including students from the USA-based Wildlands Programme, who were taught environmental monitoring methods and assessing different habitats.

Earlier this year, the nominees joined the annual Rotary event, Know Your Town, giving local children a chance to learn about the importance of the estuary, the impact of marine litter, and what can be done to help. In the last three years the nominees have made important contributions to Marine Week and the Knysna Arts Festival. They have organised several clean-ups, which highlight how human activities can impact aquatic systems – involving local divers, scholars and the wider community. An innovation this year was the Artful Waste Challenge – aimed at raising awareness of marine litter by using the collected litter to create artworks focused on marine conservation. This is set to become a ‘must do’ on the annual Oyster Festival programme.

The nominees have featured on radio interviews, film and the 50/50 programme on TV. They regularly give talks to various groups, and produce two newsletters per year, which are circulated to the project members. They also participate in various environmental decision-making forums.

Professor Allanson has played a great role in mentoring his younger environmental partner, to ensure continuity and sustainability of the environmental program. An instrument technician is also being trained and mentored, as part of the Knysna Environmental Monitoring Platform (KEMP). A project management committee – formed in 1995 – helps ensure the continuation and sustainability of the project. And SAN Parks, members of the public and local Municipality contribute to running the project, on a voluntary basis. Regular meetings are held so members can report back on achievements, ensure that programmes have been implemented, and discuss future activities.

Both individuals have very close past and present links with Rhodes University... and there is little doubt that their community appreciates the role played by Rhodes in their project. Their work, which is done on a completely voluntary basis, has helped raise the profile of the university, attracting the interest of national and international groups. They certainly deserve the university’s recognition of their efforts.

Amina Cachalia Residence: This student residence has consistently shown a heart for promoting sustainability, and has undertaken environmentally friendly activities for many years. It is noteworthy that they have been consistent supporters of the RMR Makana Green Fun Run, and for the last three years have won the prize for the biggest res team. This year, 25 of the 88 students paid and participated in the event, and many more donated money to the cause. They enter into the spirit of the event, creating a painted banner and various smaller signs – all with green messages. They will continue to use the banner every year to encourage activity in community-based environmental events, and promote sustainable practices.

Within the res, a number of tangible environmental initiatives are led every year by the serving Environmental Rep, with assistance and participation by other res students. This year, a ‘Rethink the Bag’ initiative was launched to make people aware of the amount of litter in South Africa, and how a large percentage of that – the ubiquitous plastic bag – could be reduced. Re-usable bags were made freely available in the res for students to take shopping and then return the bags afterwards. A Ted Talk by Hayley McLellan was shared on the res Facebook page to explain why this was important. Student feedback indicated that the project was well-accepted: they found it easy to change a small part of their lifestyle, with the satisfaction of making a big difference.

Another ongoing project in the res is a weekly recycling collection. Every Tuesday evening, the communal recycling containers are emptied by the Environmental rep and various volunteers, and placed in clear bags outside the res for collection first thing in the morning. The students realise that although this is an important aspect of campus greening, it is important to generate LESS waste, and manage this properly.

The res has also made a significant contribution to reducing the amount of waste created by single-use plastic bottles. They initiated a weekly water collection service: the residents hand in their re-usable water bottles and pay a small fee to cover the cost of transport – the remainder going towards the purchase of low-flow showerheads for the res (to help reduce water usage). The water bottling team fills the containers at the spring on the outskirts of Grahamstown, and brings about 80 litres of delicious spring water to the res every week. This project will continue, but the res also intends to get the university’s help with cleaning out and maintaining the res rain water tank, and installing a proper filter on the tank. They are motivated by the fact that clean, healthy drinking water should be available to ALL people in a community. It is also clear that collecting fresh spring water – or clean filtered rain water – in reusable containers is more sustainable than costly bottled water.

The res also promotes the importance of clean, green spaces – based on an understanding that a healthy environment is essential for human health and wellbeing. They actively promote the use and enjoyment of calming green spaces on campus, as well as nearby natural areas and hiking trails. They also plan to raise funds to buy a bench for the res garden – a great way for people to enjoy a healthy green space right on their doorstep.

The value of green living is discussed in house meetings, and posters are put up on the noticeboards reminding people to use resources such as water and electricity wisely. The res is fortunate to have movement sensor lights – which switch off automatically when people leave a room – to reduce electricity use (and save electricity costs). However, the students are keen to also have energy-saving light bulbs, as well as an electricity meter to record how much power they use. They acknowledge that institutional change takes time and funds, and patiently keep liaising with Infrastructure & Operations to assist with implementing the necessary greening measures.

Continuity of all these activities is assured through a good handover system from one Environmental Representative to the next. The rep plays a valuable role in constantly raising awareness about environmental concerns and activities, and alerting students about how they can participate. This residence deserves acknowledgment for its consistent efforts to raise awareness about environmental sustainability. They know that caring for the environment is not difficult, and makes a big difference to people from all walks of life – wealthy or poor.

Children of the Soil (COTS): This non-profit organisation, comprised of volunteers from various walks of life, was launched at the beginning of 2015. Their aim is to create awareness regarding environmental issues, and contribute to mitigating the impact of climate change by focusing on those who are most likely to be affected – the youth in vulnerable communities.

COTS promotes environmental sustainability and resilience by engaging school children in vegetable gardening, recycling, environmental awareness lessons and physical education. By planting and growing vegetable gardens, they are empowering children, showing them how to reduce their dependence on buying vegetables, and at the same time reducing their ecological footprint. They have also worked on improving scholars’ understanding of the links between environmental sustainability and food and water security, and raising awareness about the importance of using resources wisely. 

Innovative approaches have been used to engage with the scholars, including educational trips, puppet dialogues, drama and debates, sports, street painting, using old tyres for artworks, and developing child- and youth-friendly radio and newspaper publications. They have also initiated arbour projects, and water conservation and waste projects... and egg farms are on the way... in addition to setting up vegetable gardens in free urban spaces. They have established Environmental Clubs – which will be launched this term in the schools – and were also involved in closing down some illegal dumpsites.

The group has elements of both environmental awareness and community engagement, involving a spectrum of stakeholders across the Grahamstown community, from East to West, from primary schools, to University stakeholders, as well as local businesses and government stakeholders. The key role-players are student volunteers who are trained in workshops run by Rhodes University’s Community Engagement Division at the beginning of each year. The skilled volunteers then mentor scholars at local primary schools through a variety of programmes. They have engaged with an impressive number of schools, including Fikizolo, Good Shepherd, Samuel Ntsiko, Kuyasa, NV Cewu, Andrew Moyake, and CM Vellem Primary School, and an NGO (Home of Joy). Various collaborating organisations have been involved in their activities, including government departments, Umthathi Training Project, Water for Dignity, Young Water Professionals, and a number of student societies – the RU Namibian Society, East Africa Society, and Galela Amanzi. These groups assist with logistical issues like supplying agricultural land, providing the necessary permissions, supervising activities, and also coming up with innovative ideas. They have also engaged local media (newspapers, radio stations & Facebook) to help advertise/ market their activities and outputs to the community. Various private institutions have been engaged in providing project resources and financial support. Last but not least, they have engaged members of the community whose Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) add value to the project.

The group was nominated last year for an environmental award, and they are back this year ... proving that they are on track and committed to continue their activities – which are benefiting the environment and the community, from the bottom up!

More info on the RU Environmental Awards.

Go to the Rhodes University ENVIRONMENT front page. Suggestions/Questions? Contact environment(at)ru.ac.za

Last Modified: Fri, 18 May 2018 13:25:20 SAST